How To Create Great Strategy With 4 Simple Questions

How To Create Great Strategy With 4 Simple Questions

So you’re at the start of a new year and your team has been asked to create a strategy.

It’s a common challenge, and I know I’ve been involved in more than 20 processes like this.  So, how to start the strategy process?

Part of the challenge is there are so many options to chose from.  Should we start by creating a Vision? Or should we focus on building our Roadmap?

Instead of analysing which is the ‘right’ activity to begin with, it’s helpful to jump up a level, and ask ourselves what are the fundamental questions we have to answer for a strategy to succeed? This way, it won’t matter what question we begin with, so long as at the end of our process, all questions are answered.

#1. The ‘Why’ in strategy

This question asks us to look at our purpose. This is the territory of Vision Statements and Mission Statements. It is about asking ourselves what we stand for, what value we provide to our customers and employees, and where we will be in 3 to 5 years. The ‘why’ binds people together, aligning goals, so the organisation is directed toward a common purpose.

If we do not answer this question, teams and people will be misaligned, and projects will be pursued without a common direction.

#2. The ‘What’ in strategy

‘What’ is about our goals. What do we want to achieve within one or two years? What are the measures of our success? What are the three goals we have for our organisation that, if not realised, will stop us from realising our ambition.

If we do not answer ‘what’, we will not have clear goals to focus on or measures to know if we’ve succeeded in our purpose.

#3. The ‘How’ in strategy

This question is about detailed planning and scheduling. Roadmaps live here. In answering this question, we solve what activities will be rolled out and in which order. We answer how we’ll setup our teams to work through challenges so that we can deliver outcomes that take us toward our vision. We ask how this work will be funded and whether we have all the skills we need to achieve our goals. ‘When’ is a close cousin of this question, as timing is an integral part of planning activities.

If we do not answer ‘how’, we may never begin the activities that connect reality with our vision. We also risk not getting the right mix of resources to fulfill our purpose.

#4. The ‘Who’ in strategy

This is about what people and partners we need to fulfill our goal. People could represent specific skill sets (ie. design capabilities) to acquire, or specific roles to be established, or new teams to setup from scratch. Partners could represent agencies or business partners that can provide us with expertise that our organisation lacks.

‘Who’ is all about acquiring capabilities, so that we can fill the gaps we have that are needed to achieve our goals. It also implies an external focus, as we need to watch the market for emerging capabilities, new companies that are changing the industry, and new people who are shaping change.

If we do not answer ‘who’, we may not fulfill our goals as quickly as we could, or may put our goals at risk entirely.

All great strategies link back to these questions, whether it’s Henry Ford’s purposeful vision “I’m going to democratize the automobile” (the ‘why’ in strategy) or Mark Murphy’s distinction of HARD Goals (the ‘what’ in strategy).

How does your team go about the strategy creation process?   Which question area do you begin with?  You can leave a comment below.  

Images:, Table for Four, Thomas Galvaz

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